04 March 2012

The Hunt for Dr. Wertham’s Sources

It’s been three years since Oz and Ends last announced its award for Batman research, which is of course far too long. So today we’re spotlighting Stephen O’Day’s Seduction of the Innocent website, where O’Day and readers have identified three of the stories that Dr. Fredric Wertham alluded to when he analyzed Batman comics in chapter 7 of Seduction of the Innocent.

As you might recall, Wertham briefly interpreted Batman and Robin as lovers. (Someday I’ll discuss how that reading undercut the main point of his anti-comics book.) The doctor’s evidence consisted of details like this:

Batman is sometimes shown in a dressing gown. As they sit by the fireplace the young boy sometimes worries about his partner: “Something’s wrong with Bruce. He hasn’t been himself these past few days.” It is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together. Sometimes they are shown on a couch, Bruce reclining and Dick sitting next to him, jacket off, collar open, and his hand on his friend’s arm.
Those panel descriptions and deathless monologue come from World’s Finest, #44, dated February-March 1950. (The same magazine also shows a crime scene that Wertham described elsewhere.)
Like the girls in other stories, Robin is sometimes held captive by the villains and Batman has to give in or “Robin gets killed.”
The three quoted words appear in Batman, #67, with a cover date of October-November 1951. The same story was reprinted in Batman: From the ’30s to the ’70s, which included an angry denial of the Wertham interpretation. That means a lot of people saw the panel before anyone saw the ironic connection between those two books—which just shows how often the Boy Hostage found himself in similar situations.
If she [“a girl”] is after Bruce Wayne, she will have no chance against Dick. For instance, Bruce and Dick go out one evening in dinner clothes, dressed exactly alike. The attractive girl makes up to Bruce while in successive pictures young Dick looks on smiling, sure of Bruce.
That describes a scene in Batman, #64, dated April-May 1951.
And there’s some fine “Golden Age” exposition as well.

Crowd-sourcing the search, LostSOTI.org lists descriptions from Wertham’s book that have yet to be linked to specific comics. However, that list doesn’t seem to include two more Batman references:
  • “One young homosexual during psychotherapy brought us a copy of Detective Comics, with a Batman story. He pointed out a picture of ‘The Home of Bruce and Dick’ a house beautifully landscaped, warmly lighted and showing the devoted pair side by side, looking out a picture window.”
  • “Violence is not lacking in these stories. You are shown Batman and Robin standing in a room with a whole row of corpses on the floor.”
And I suppose we could throw a few panels of “beautiful flowers in large vases” in stately Wayne Manor onto the wish list. They probably all lurk in the same stretch from the late 1940s to the early 1950s.

Collectors evidently value comics that show up in Wertham’s book more highly, so there’s an economic incentive to identify them. For folks studying the development of Wertham’s ideas, another, perhaps more valuable sort of unidentified source is the colleague whom he seemed to credit for his reading of Batman: “Several years ago a California psychiatrist pointed out that the Batman stories are psychologically homosexual.” Wertham’s papers are now available to scholars, and maybe they name that psychiatrist.

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